by Cindy Caldwell
I am pleased to provide you with a brief overview of my father and founder of Harry’s Dive Shop.
Harry Caldwell found his way to New Orleans quite by accident. Born and raised in Tennessee, he worked for “Ma Bell,” the local phone company. He and many other employees of “Ma Bell” from across the country were sent to New Orleans to restore telephone service after the devastation of Hurricane Audrey in 1957. Suffice it to say that Harry fell in love with the Deep South and wanted to relocate his family here, to a different way of life. He felt the opportunities surrounding New Orleans were something to be had. The family moved to Metairie in 1959 and quickly made it their home. And so the story of Harry Caldwell in the deep south begins…
Harry Caldwell was a fun loving man who stood 6’4” inches tall, was full of life and loved adventure. He was a man with strong family values and morals. His interests included playing the Ukulele, singing, hosting parties, dancing, boating, trawling, fishing, water skiing, collecting valuables from junkyards, scuba diving, and proving he could do what others said he could not.
Harry loved the holidays. Each Christmas, he would drive down to “the parish” and buy a truckload of Plaquemine’s oranges and distribute them to his many friends and family. He’d make a Christmas wreath with peppermints and wear it around his neck. And if you wanted a mint, you’d have to answer a simple riddle.
July 4th would find Harry throwing an outdoor “all-you-can-eat” seafood party complete with challenging outdoor activities. Each year he held a water-skiing competition where he would see how many skiers he could pick up with his 31 ft Laffite Skiff. The last remaining skier was “Champion of the Day” and was required to wear a shrimp shell hat as the trophy.
Harry was a self-made man who did not accept failure. He was destined to make his mark on the world through his kindness and sharing of knowledge. Harry was known to teach by example and some even regarded him as soft-spoken. His overall attitude in life was that no one owed you anything and life made no promises it would be fair or success an easy road. Harry believed that life was what you made of it. He frequently used the quote “You make your bed, you lie in it!”
Harry Caldwell, founder of Harry’s Dive Shop, was a pioneer of sport scuba diving. In the late 1950s, Harry gathered up a small group of ready, willing, and able self-taught divers to go forth, experience, and learn.scuba diving, as a sport, was in its infancy! It was only after World War II that scuba diving was considered to be something the public could do.
Immediately following the war, the obsolete and non-necessary military supplies were released into society. Anyone with the adventurous inclination could walk into an army surplus or hardware store and purchase a tank, backpack, and regulator. (Masks, snorkels, and fins were already popular water sport items.) There was no diving education offered nor was there any instruction manual to accompany the equipment. People had to learn the hard way, about the potential risks involved in strapping on equipment and plunging into a foreign world — beneath the water — to swim about and explore.
Harry felt that good instruction and a healthy respect for the sea was paramount to becoming a responsible and certified scuba diver. As early as 1962, he was teaching scuba diving to the public. Two of the first facilities to offer scuba were the Greater New Orleans Downtown Lee Circle YMCA and the New Orleans Athletic Club (NOAC), both still in existence.
At that time, the majority of Harry’s “students” were fit, young and male. As a matter of fact, swimsuits were neither required nor were they frequently worn items of clothing in these male dominated clubs and classes until, the ill-fated scuba diver’s giant stride from the diving board. Ooohhh! And, let’s not forget those wonderful crotch straps on the early model horse collar buoyancy compensators that we all loved — and hated!
After Harry retired from the telephone company in 1970, he opened Harry’s Dive Shop in a tiny retail space on Metairie Road. His adversaries ridiculed him as he expressed his expectations that scuba diving would eventually evolve into an activity requiring “education and certification.” He modeled his new business after these ideals. And here we are today with those very predictions and expectations as a full-fledged reality, though we are now in a much larger facility complete with a large showroom floor, classroom, and indoor heated 16 ft. deep AAU Olympic size pool.
In the earlier days of Harry’s Dive Shop, the only colors of equipment you would find included black, black or black. Blue eventually made its way through the door soon to be followed by “Emergency Red” or “International Orange.” This is how diving equipment remained for better than 20 years. When Harry died in 1986, pink was just beginning to appear and now in the 21st century, practically anything goes. If electric pink or neon yellow is your preference, we can accommodate you. If you prefer lime green with purple polka dots, we can help you there, too. However, should you desire to have all black, you’re in luck because black is back once again.
As Harry’s daughter, my passion is also for the undersea world. Together with the help of friends, family and valued employees, more than 30 years later, I continue to operate Harry’s Dive Shop.
Though times, conditions, requirements, equipment, and standards are continually changing, we aim to adapt and stay current. Our goal is to offer you the best service and the best diving education possible at competitive prices and schedules. If there is something you want but don’t see in our store, let us know, and if possible, we’ll get it for you. If you want a particular class that we don’t offer, tell us and we’ll assist you however we can. We want you to join in the fun of the life long sport of scuba under the sea!
Lastly, we thank you for your patronage and for giving us the opportunity to serve you, your needs, and your wishes in the sport of scuba diving. Harry’s Dive Shop has been in business for many years. We plan to remain in business many more years.
Until our next meeting,
Tanks, and “we’ll BC-n-Ya!”